The reactions of the British public, the markets and the European Union Leadership to Brexit are typical of those moments of truth that Change Managers must anticipate and plan to mitigate. Little such planning has been evident in this particular case study (if only it was just a case study).
The British public, of which I am part, is stunned whichever way it voted. It seems that the consequences of the decision were not fully appreciated by many. The markets have over-reacted as they mostly do. The leadership of the European Union is angry, suddenly threatened and prone to hardline statements.
Moment of truth reactions must be heavily discounted and allowed to play out. The dawning realisation that more is the same than changing will lead to calmer and more constructive reactions. At this point, the Change Manager must be ready with appropriate and timely interventions.
For the thoughts that follow, I am inspired by the speech of a good friend on his retirement from the European Commission this week. Some might say he is one of those faceless bureaucrats from which we Brits must be liberated. He argues that a clear and compelling vision is required to drive and sustain change. The calls for “healing” repeated in the UK over the last few days are meaningless. We need the vision and a plan to make Brexit work. Healing will follow as an outcome of competent Change Management. Without vision, the wounds will fester.
Moments of truth are inevitable in any change programme; like rogue waves that can only be ridden out. Visioning the future beyond the horizon is critical to success.
I still believe that change is good.
The ugly, synthesised word that has, today, come to signify the British peoples’ decision to leave the European Union is now assured of a long life. I am on the losing side and shocked. My readers will not be surprised to learn that I am looking for Change Management lessons even while I think about whether there is anything I can do to protect my selfish interests (I do not think there is).
The received wisdom for binary decisions such as offered to the UK voters is that the status quo will have an inherent advantage. Human nature tends to be risk averse. The case for change has to be rather robust to overcome that instinct. The knowledge that a change will likely involve the roller coaster that is our Change Curve and include a period in the wilderness weighs heavily.
So what happened here in the UK? I should mention at this point that it was mostly the English rather than the British that have forced this pending Brexit.
The Brexit arguments, even when I did not agree with them, were positive and sometimes appealed to another basic instinct; jingoism. The arguments for staying in the EU were often framed as if threatening a naughty child with a loss of privileges.
In this case it seems the good folk of England (ok, and Wales) decided to test the boundaries. As is occasionally observed at international soccer tournaments, we English do have a naughty streak.
So now the challenge is to sell the advantages of Brexit to me and the 16 million Brits who voted and lost. Right now I am frightened, angry and not at all hopeful. The wilderness looms on the near horizon.
But heh, change is good. Right?
Strategy Planners often look for low hanging fruit and quick wins to inject credibility and momentum to their Change Management efforts. My business start up has benefited from a quick win; some consulting work for my former employer that required little of the hard sell that other potential opportunites will demand. This early success brings some risks; the temptation is to assume that the early momentum will translate into sustainable change. The Change Manager has to focus on the long haul and ensure his/her plans include energetic action to reinforce and cement early progress. Communication must use multiple channels and key messages be repeated often to reach the target audiences.
Surely the defining quality of the successful Change Manager is the determination to tackle the long haul. Early in a project, the need for structured change management focused on people and processes is often discounted in the pursuit of an IT solution or a reconfiguration of the boxes on an organisation chart. The Change Manager may have to take a back seat; quietly executing communication plans and developing training while the, apparently sexier, implementation progresses.
So enjoy the quick wins and focus on the long haul.
Change is Good.
My blog this week comes from Cape Town where I am consulting for the first time since setting up my fledgling business.
Southern Africa is the home of Ubuntu; a concept that can be translated loosely as “I am what I am because of who we all are”. This community centred view of life contrasts with the egocentric view that often prevails in the corporate world.
I am visualising a design for Ubuntu spectacles. These spectacles will be worn by a Change Manager when thinking about the impacts of change on a team or organisation. Individuals react to change in different ways and at a range of speeds. Nevertheless, it is the way the team as a whole reacts that will determine the success and sustainability of the change. Making the case for change will be easier when it is done in such a way that the individual identifies with the benefits for the team. The growth opportunities for the team member will stem mostly from the improvement in team performance or effectiveness.
So wearing my conceptual spectacles is maybe a way to develop better Change Management plans and produce results that also enhance the individual’s view of who he or she is.
Change is good; if we all think so.